Rugby-Out of veterans shadows, All Blacks ready to flourish

By Greg Stutchbury WELLINGTON, May 29 (Reuters) - The All Blacks lost more than 800 caps worth of experience when Richie McCaw led a core group into retirement after the World Cup, and while their influence will be missed coach Steve Hansen believes the squad will emerge from their shadows and flourish. Hansen named six uncapped players and recalled six others who had not made last year's World Cup team to a 32-man squad for the three-match series against Warren Gatland's Wales that begins at Eden Park in Auckland on June 11. Hansen had been forced to make a raft of changes after long-standing captain McCaw and a handful of other stalwarts from his World Cup-winning side ended their international careers after last year's tournament in England. While some have suggested their departure could spell a period of troubled transition for the All Blacks, Hansen says the bar has been set even higher. Several times during a televised media conference from Auckland on Sunday, Hansen said they had already forgotten about last year's achievements. The task now, he said, was to take the world champions to a whole new level. "We have chopped down a few trees who have cast some fairly large shadows for a long time and I believe when you do that the grass grows," Hansen said. "We're well aware that what we did yesterday will not be enough for today, so we'll be looking to raise the bar to an even higher level from where we've been. "This is our challenge - one, I must say, we're really looking forward to getting stuck into." Sunday's squad announcement had marked similarities to his first in 2012 when he introduced six new caps for tests against Ireland. Of the six, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith and Julian Savea have cemented themselves as starters over the last four years with more than 40 caps each, while Sam Cane made 31 test appearances as McCaw's understudy. Beauden Barrett, with 36 caps, is almost certain to be in most matchday squads with his versatility at flyhalf or fullback, while Dane Coles, who made his debut later in 2012, has become arguably the best hooker in the world. New captain Kieran Read said that while the side had lost some veterans, there were plenty of experienced players ready to step into the breach. "We have lost a lot of experience but we have got top-quality guys who can step up into those leadership roles," Read said. "The likes of Sam Cane and Aaron Cruden have been around for a while and experienced a lot of test matches. "It all bodes really well. We have to take this All Blacks side to another level." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)